18 Oct 2017

Sport: 'Ikale Tahi players allowed to skip northern tour

4:36 pm on 18 October 2017

A handful of front-line players have been allowed to skip Tonga's end of year rugby tour but head coach Toutai Kefu says such allowance will not be permitted in future for those wanting to attend the Rugby World Cup.

There are eight new caps: prop Jethro Felemi, former Australia Under 20s hooker Maile Ngauamo, lock Onehunga Havili, loose forwards Sione Vailanu, Maama Vaipulu and Fotu Lokotui, Japan-based halfback Shinnosuke Tuumotooa, and ex New Zealand Under 20s wing Penikolo Latu.

'Ikale Tahi newcomer Fotu Lokotui (R) tries to prevent a try playing for Counties Manakau against North Harbour.

'Ikale Tahi newcomer Fotu Lokotui (R) tries to prevent a try playing for Counties Manakau against North Harbour. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Flanker Jack Ram (Doncaster), props Siegfried Fisi'ihoi (Stade Francais), Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow Warriors) and Phil Kite (Vannes) and lock Joe Tuineau (Dax) have been omitted from the 'Ikale Tahi team to play the Barbarians, Japan and Romania next month, following discussions with the coaching staff.

Mr Kefu says the players wanted to establish themselves at their club sides but he said such flexibility won't be possible in future.

"Most of those players are in a transition mode going from Super Rugby to European teams, namely the French teams, so they weren't available because they wanted to put their best foot forward there," he said.

Tonga's Jack Ram during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Tonga's Jack Ram during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: AFP

"And some of them were only contracted for one year contracts there so they wanted to put their best feet forward for their clubs so we've allowed that. It gives another opportunity to someone else and that's probably a positive in many ways, where we can have a look at all these other players.

"But moves starting from next year we've got a two-year plan running into the World Cup (and) those players who are probably not going to make themselves available from then on will probably start to get a black mark against their name.

"...they will know that if they do make themselves unavailable for the 'Ikale Tahi from next year on their place in the Rugby World Cup squad could be jeopardised".

Siegfried Fisi'ihoi playing for the Chiefs against Wales in 2016.

Former Chiefs prop Siegfried Fisi'ihoi is now playing in France. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Despite being without the services of three props, Toutai Kefu was enthusiastic about the Kingdom's abilities up front.

"Halani (Aulika) has played for us before - I was involved in 2011 with him in the World Cup squad. He's a powerful scrummager and so is Paea Faanunu, who's a monster of a man," he said.

"One of our strengths we're looking towards the World Cup is a big scrum, powerful scrum - we're playing the likes of Argentina, France and England so it's good to have a look at those players again.

"Ben Tameifuna comes back as well and we all know how good he can be".

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu Photo: RNZI / Vinnie Wylie

Toutai Kefu said Crusaders halfback Leon Fukofuka, who made his test debut against Wales in June, was injured while Telusa Veainu would also make a full-strength Tongan team but has been rested so other players can be exposed to test level.

His Leicester Tigers teammate Valentino Mapapalangi was also set to be rested but has been called into the tour squad following the withdrawal of Mike Faleafa.

Meanwhile former Highlanders captain Nasi Manu has also made himself available for Tonga.

The 29-year-old could be called up in case of injury in the loose forwards but Mr Kefu said the Italy-based number eight was only recently back from injury and they were waiting to see him with some games under his belt.

Tonga Squad:

Ben Tameifuna, Latu Talakai, Halani Aulika, Paea Faanunu, Sione Lea, Jethro Felemi, Sione Lolohea, Maile Ngauamo, Onehunga Havili, Leva Fifita, Steve Mafi,

Sione Kalamafoni, Valentino Mapapalangi, Daniel Faleafa, Sione Vailanu, Maama Vaipulu, Fotu Lokotui, Shinnosuke Tuumotooa, Sonatane Takulua, Kali Hala, Latiume Fosita, Siale Piutau, Tevita Taufui, 'Atieli Pakalani, Cooper Vuna, David Halaifonua, Nafi Tu'itavake, Penikolo Latu, Fetuli Paea